Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Cyber Security Issues Facing the Higher Education Sector in Canada

By: Sentia   Categories:Security, Cyber Security, Data Security

Cyber Security Issues Facing the Higher Education Sector in Canada

Higher education institutions, especially polytechnics, universities, and colleges, are vulnerable to numerous cyber threats and attacks.

According to Isaac Straley, the chief information security officer at the University of Toronto, securing higher education institutions is challenging due to a complex cyber security landscape. "We do so many things in higher education. The social landscape is quite complex, teaching and learning; we have information about people, our students, our staff, our donors. And we also have intellectual property that we are generating," Straley says.

Three primary cyber security threats are facing higher learning institutions in Canada. First, they include general cyber-attacks, which mostly target average internet users. For example, attackers may launch a whale phishing campaign, sending phishing emails in bulk, hoping that a student or staff member will open and become a victim. Secondly, criminal organizations also target higher education institutions with advanced malware. These include ransomware as a service and crypto-jacking malware. In addition, cybercrime groups usually launch attacks against higher institutions for monetary gains. Lastly, state-sponsored attacks can also target higher learning entities to facilitate espionage.

The Canadian education sector is susceptible to all three cyber threat categories. Straley affirms this by stating that "individual institutions may have different levels of engagement or different concerns but across our sector we are concerned with all three of those."

Alongside that, the following cybersecurity trends underscore the need for good cybersecurity practices in Canadian higher education institutions:

  • Increased cyber risk: As cloud-based and on-premise infrastructure grows in complexity and size, higher learning institutions find it more challenging to build the required cybersecurity capacity to ensure resilient security management methods. Increased endpoints and internet-facing apps and devices come with elevated cyber risks.
  • Lack of cyber preparedness: Some higher education entities may lack sufficient resources and expertise to build a strong cybersecurity posture. Luckily, managed security providers can help them access and utilize state-of-the-art cybersecurity resources and certified experts.
  • Incomplete cybersecurity roadmaps: A holistic cybersecurity posture calls for adequate budgetary allocations, resources, and unified cybersecurity policies aligned to the security needs. However, some higher learning institutions may not afford to prioritize such initiatives, leaving them with incomplete cybersecurity roadmaps.

Secure Higher Learning Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The disruptive COVID-19 outbreak caused uncertainties and widespread challenges across the Canadian higher-learning sector. Universities, polytechnics, and colleges have had to respond to an urgent education delivery crisis, which included an accelerated expansion and adoption of remote working and distance learning methods. COVID-19 also required higher learning institutions to adopt virtualized in-class course instructions and devise remote strategies for delivering student wellness programs.  As a result, higher education entities are currently grappling with the following cybersecurity concerns:

  • Unanticipated distance learning and online working requirements: The pandemic saw a significant but unanticipated increase in distance learning and remote working methods. As a result, employees and students log in from unsecured home networks and personal devices lacking hardened cybersecurity controls.
  • Elevated threat actors' activities: Malicious threat actors have exploited the confusion and uncertainties resulting from the pandemic to increase attacks targeting students, faculty, and other employees. These include increased phishing attacks.
  • Insufficient cyber protection: Higher learning institutions often have crown jewels, such as intellectual properties, advanced researches, and sensitive financial data that require sufficient protection. However, the lack of resources and expertise may expose them to various threats and attacks.
  • Increased targeted attacks: Cyber-attackers may execute targeted cyberattacks against specific higher learning institutions or individual researchers. Factors like espionage and financial gains may motivate such attacks.

Since higher learning educational centers process and manage highly-sensitive data, it is vital to focus on those privacy and security concerns.

Essential Cyber Security Factors to Consider

The speed, efficiency, and agility with which higher learning institutions remediate cybersecurity concerns are essential to achieving robust security postures. In a higher learning environment, the primary factors to consider for enhanced cybersecurity management are:

1.Securing the decentralized operations: Higher education organizations must establish industry-standard procedures for securing the highly-decentralized nature of data ownership, distance learning, and remote working. For example, a researcher owns research rights but is the data stored in a secure server?

2.Determine crown jewels: Determining the most valuable crown jewels, including mission-critical assets, can assist higher learning institutions in addressing cybersecurity issues quickly and adequately. For instance, what are the cyber risks to consider for students accessing school services and resources remotely and the required geo-location login features to implement?

3.Procedures and policies: Higher learning entities accelerated the adoption of remote working systems and technologies to ensure business continuity. Nevertheless, did they implement robust and compliant policies and procedures governing their use and security management requirements:

Vital Cyber Security Requirements for Higher Learning Institutions

1.Identity protection: Higher education organizations must implement multifactor authentication and validation systems, including limited login attempts for failed attempts, two-factor authentication systems, login filtering systems based on geo-locations, and string password management policies.

2.Secure networks: Secure networks are critical to providing secure remote access. Thus, higher education institutions should consider using remote desktop protocols (RDPs) and virtual private networks (VPNs) to secure internal network access. Secure remote access options ensure an encrypted transmission of sensitive information, preventing unauthorized access and man-in-the-middle attacks.

3.Third-party risk assessments: Performing organizational-wide third-party risk assessments can assist higher learning institutions in identifying and managing cyber risks efficiently.

How Sentia Can Help

Outsourcing an institution's cybersecurity requirements unlocks access to various industry-standard solutions to secure higher learning institutions against the current cyber threat landscape. The cybersecurity services include organizational network security, where Sentia can assist an educational institution in safeguarding IT networks. In addition, Sentia's secure network solutions provide complete visibility of all network activities to ensure timely threat and attack detection.

In addition, compliance consulting ensures that a higher learning entity complies with all regulatory standards and requirements. Essentially, this is by providing full visibility into your IT deployments to ascertain that the institution meets all compliance needs proactively. In this case, Sentia offers coordination, consulting, and auditing services for all compliance standards.

Higher education organizations can also benefit from Sentia's cybersecurity consulting services to ensure they remain current on all cybersecurity trends. Managed cybersecurity services also provide access to state-of-the-art cybersecurity solutions and certified experts at an affordable cost. With cyber threats evolving at an alarming rate, organizations in the Canadian higher education sector require Sentia's solutions and services to protect critical data and assets from attacks.

You can contact us today to discuss how Sentia can help you secure your environment from cyber threats.



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